How to buy and sell a home through estate agents

Money Advice Service

Wondering how long it takes to buy or sell a house through an estate agent? Not sure what questions to ask when viewing a property? This guide explains what estate agents do, what fees they might charge and looks at other ways to buy and sell property, including online.

What do estate agents do?

Shop around

Some estate agents might recommend: mortgage brokers, surveyors or lawyers.

You can speak to them, but you don’t need to use their services.

It’s always worth shopping around, as the savings can be significant.

Estate agents market and sell property, but they also:

  • Deal with paperwork
  • Monitor the chain (of buyers selling their old home and sellers buying their new home)
  • Liaise with your solicitor
  • Negotiate with buyers and sellers.

Estate agents do not deal with surveys – you will need a surveyor, but they might have partnerships in place to recommend a surveyor to you.

How long does it take?

There is no set timescale sale or purchase of a house. Buyers and sellers have different needs and issues can pop up and cause delays.

Estate agents and fees

If you are buying a property there should be no estate agent fees involved.

If you’re selling, you will usually pay between 0.75% and 3.5% of the selling price to your estate agent.

Shop around, and negotiate once you’ve found an estate agent you would like to work with.

Check the fee includes VAT or you’ll need to add another 20% to the price of the fee.

How to deal with estate agents when buying

Keep in touch

Stay in regular contact with your estate agent, so they think of you when the perfect property arrives on the market.

You can register with several estate agents.

To choose which will be best, look at the type of properties they offer, their fees (if applicable) and speak to friends and family for recommendations.

Keep on top of the process when you’re house-hunting

Make a note of conversations you have, including who you spoke to, the date and time.

This keeps you in control and is a useful reminder of what’s been discussed and agreed.

Questions to ask

First-time buyers

If you’re a first-time buyer with a ‘mortgage in principle’, make sure you mention this when you meet sellers as it puts you in a strong position to move things forward quickly.

When a property catches your eye, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.

Bear in mind asking the right questions now might save you quite a lot of money in the future.

Estate agents have a duty to be truthful so grill them for details.

This is not a time to be shy. Ask questions such as:

  • How long has the property been on the market?
  • Are there any works expected on the property?
  • What will be included in the sale? (Curtains? Light fittings? Furniture?)
Viewing a property? Read our Property viewing checklist (PDF 2.7MB).

For a full list of questions you should ask read our Who’s who guide (PDF 3MB).

Making an offer

It’s not too late

You or the seller can pull out at any time before the exchange of contracts takes place.

Your offer should be:

  • Subject to contract (STC) – the final sale takes place only when lawyers have exchanged legally binding documents
  • Subject to survey – this allows for the cost of any faults or issues to be taken into account once your surveyor has checked the property out

Once your offer has been accepted, make sure the estate agent has taken the property off the market and is no longer advertising it for viewings.

If someone else is interested and views it, you risk someone else coming in with a higher offer, which is known as gazumping.

You should receive a letter from the estate agent confirming your offer. If you don’t receive this then make sure to ask for one.

What is a sealed bid and how does it work?

Making an offer with a sealed bid, where the price offered is secret, is normal practice in Scotland but not so common elsewhere.

Sealed bids are not legally binding.

Outside Scotland sealed bids are usually only asked for when there is competition for a property.

Potential buyers will be given a guide price, and it’s expected their sealed bid will be higher than this.

  • Feel free to ask the estate agent for advice on what to bid, but remember they are working for the seller, not you
  • Avoid rounding up the figure you offer. For instance, if you think the property is worth £250,000, you could put in a sealed bid for £251,500
  • Let them know how quickly you can move

A date is set for sealed bids to be received, either by the estate agent or seller’s solicitor – they’re usually opened at the same time.

The successful buyer will then be told they have the winning offer.

Selling with an estate agent

Once you’ve decided to sell using an estate agent, choose one by asking questions about their track record in selling properties like yours.

Find out how they intend to market your property online, as this is where many people start their search. And remember, there will be a fee involved.

How to complain about an estate agent

If things go wrong, you have the right to make a complaint. Talk to your estate agent first, raise your concerns and give them an opportunity to respond.

If you’re not satisfied with their response you can get in touch with the property ombudsman who covers your agent.

Other ways to buy and sell property

Selling online

There are websites which will help you find a buyer, or sell your property, saving you a considerable amount of money.

For sale listing services only, remember you’re responsible for:

  • Putting up the ‘For Sale’ sign and adding your phone number
  • Taking interior and exterior photographs
  • Negotiating on price with potential buyers
  • Showing potential buyers round your property
  • Organising Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs)
  • Providing details and dimensions about the size of rooms.

Online selling costs vary between websites, so make sure you’re clear about what you are getting for your money. You might also be charged whether you sell your property or not.

Online estate agents must be members of a professional regulatory body.


This can be a popular (and quicker) way to buy or sell properties which might need refurbishment or have been repossessed.

You’ll probably pay a 10% deposit with the remainder payable within 28 days so you’ll need to have money ready.

Remember there will be costs to consider such as entry fee for the catalogue and auction, commission, solicitors fees and survey costs.

Find out more on the NAVA website.

Your next step

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.

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